I’ve been to Oklahoma City twice in my life. Both times didn’t disappoint.
The fact is, this place is way too cool, and has way too much going on, and yet, when you think of weekend getaways, when was the last time that Oklahoma City came up? I’m willing to bet that if you’re from Oklahoma, or Western Arkansas, you didn’t think of OKC once.
That’s a shame, because aside from an massive amount of US history, covering many time periods, all located in around the greater OKC area, there is plenty to do for both families, and young adults, without bumping into each other. How many places in the US can host both audiences, and claim that?
First, I’m going to talk about food. I shared some of the offerings with my private circle, but I have to tell you, even a whole album on Instagram isn’t going to do justice for the food in OKC.
OKC has a plethora of Italian cuisine. You’ll find plenty of offerings, whether it’s Stella in the north end (1201 N Walker), Patrono (305 N Walker) which is closer to downtown, or Zio’s in Bricktown (12 E California), there are plenty of options to get your pasta on. Italians have had a long history in OKC, though understated, much like the city itself.
When I go to OKC, I pass by all those great offerings, and go straight to the barbecue. Look, you can talk about Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and all that is great. None of it compares to Oklahoma Barbecue.
Oklahoma barbecue goes all the way to the Trail of Tears, when Choctaw and Cherokee Natives that were marched from Alabama and Tennessee came to the area now known as the Osage Reservation. They brought with them “hogfires” which is quiet similar to the Hawaiian tradition of roasting a whole pig on open flame.
As cattle ranching took full hold in Texas, and the meat markets in Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago, and Eastern Wisconsin, cattle needed places to overnight, and coincidentally Oklahoma served as a great location to feed cattle on their way north. Eventually the idea of ranching took hold Oklahoma, and soon beef cuts were incorporated into Oklahoma’s fine tradition of hog cooking. As the 20th century roared, so did the style of Oklahoma barbecue. An emphasis on wood that produced fragrant smoke, less reliance on sauce (a Texas trait), but definitely the type of sauce ingredients you’d find in Kansas City. Oklahoma also incorporates Bologna Sausage into their repertoire, which you won’t anywhere else in the barbecue ecosystem.
They serve green onion, cut at the root, to neutralize the smokey flavor the meat leaves behind, because Oklahoma barbecue carries smoke with it. It’s not over the top, nor does it dry out the meat like heavy smoke can sometimes do.
My favorite places when it comes to this delicious cuisine, Blu’s BBQ and Burgers (612 N Robinson), Earl’s Rib Palace in Bricktown (216 Johnny Bench Drive), and Bedlam BBQ (610 NE 50th Street).
I won’t go heavy into the menus, because the real experience is figuring things out for yourself, but I will tell you can’t go wrong at any of these places, but to give you a heads up, yes the ribs at Earl’s are too good to be true. And Blu’s offers a side called a Haystack. You’d be crazy to pass it up. Bedlam has a side called green rice….you’d also be crazy not to order it.
When you visit OKC, make sure to visit Bricktown. It’s a former warehouse district, turned entertainment mecca. Plenty of local acts, even The Flaming Lips make appearances from time to time, and are immortalized in Bricktown by the aptly named “Flaming Lips Alley.” For my money, I like to hang out at Mojo’s Blues Bar, nestled at the west end of the alley, near the back end of Bricktown’s canal and riverwalk, which features a water taxi, with corresponding history spoken from the driver/tour guide. If you go to Mojo’s, be sure to bring cash, to tip all the bands performing, and keep your drink orders simple.
Outside of the bars, and there are plenty of them, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ AAA affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers play in Bricktown at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. It’s tops in AAA ballparks, and is certainly built to standards you would associate with major league parks, minus the capacity. That said, you could take a family of six, eating in the stands and still keep the bill below 200 bucks at the end of the night.
Of course, Seattle’s prized franchise, the Seattle Supersonics now play in OKC under the alias Oklahoma Thunder. If the NBA interests you, that is downtown, several blocks north of Bricktown. But I’ll be frank, I liked OKC better before they brought the NBA to town. I could say I’m bias because I don’t care for the NBA, but that’s not the issue. The issue is the endless road construction projects that are found every few blocks, to redirect traffic, to widen lanes, all to accommodate the arena. It makes for a drag, but in the end, it’s progress, and progress always has a toll.
A mere six miles south of downtown is the Cherokee Heritage Center, which is the proverbial end to the Trail of Tears, where the iconic statue by James Fraser, The End of the Trail sits for all to see, and reflect on the results of greed and ignorance.
Equally as sad, and more intense in the present is back downtown, across the street from Blu’s BBQ & Burgers. The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (620 N Harvey). The ebb and flow of manicured beauty, and remnants of destruction is too much for my soul when I visit. Every time I visit OKC, I visit this large chapter in our history, and I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t mention that I cry. I can’t stop crying when I walk into the courtyard, where the north side of the Alfred P. Murrah building once stood. I take in the inscription along the large concrete pillar entryways, showing the time explosion started, and the time build finally collapsed, a mere two minutes after the bomb went off. I cry at the sight of the pretty tile art provided by children through the world, all informed by adults of the terrible day. But mostly I cry at the site of the bronze chairs that are all neatly organized. There are large chairs for adults, and small chairs that represent are most grime realizations, the brutal, horrific death of 19 children and infants.
I was a middle-school aged teen when the bombing happened, and the weight of that day didn’t reach me until many years later. But forever more, whenever I visit the memorial, I cry at the sight of all those tiny chairs.
I can’t say this is the note I want to end on, as it’s never good to end a travel piece on such a raw, sour note. But in the case of OKC it works. The bombing was and is egregious. But it did help bring the city together, something that had long disappeared prior to that awful day. I have to tell you, if you’re looking for a weekend getaway with your friends, or a new place to take the family, you have to go to Oklahoma City. It may not have the kinds of things that you associate with a vacation, but it has lots of new things, and historic things worth your time.
Oklahoma. It’s not typical, it’s anything but. I wonder if they’ll buy the tagline?